Software-centric cars. Good or bad?

The lower standards, tolerance for bugs and early learning release mentality of the software sector is not really appropriate for a product like an automobile, which hold the lives of their passengers and those around them in their hands.

BHPian MustangSammy recently shared this with other enthusiasts.

Software centric cars. Good or bad?

The Economist seems to think the latter.

I beg to disagree, as the lower standards (no offense to the software developers on this forum), tolerance for bugs and early learning release mentality of the software sector is not really appropriate for a product like automobiles, which hold the lives of their passengers and those around them in their hands (mixed metaphor, I know).

Not to mention how this will eventually take away the pleasure us drivers get from direct interaction with our vehicles.

Here’s what BHPian RedTerrano had to say on the matter:

I am not going to get into the discussion on whether a computer can optimise efficiency and improve safety as compared to a human.

My take is, I would rather drive a fully human controlled vehicle than let some software control part of it.

I once saw a movie/TV serial where the assassin hacks into a car and disables the brakes at an opportune moment.

I doubt I have enemies who would send an assassin behind me (ok maybe one of my ex perhaps) but no thanks. The dumber the vehicle, the higher my safety.

Here’s what BHPian srini1875 had to say on the matter:

Whether we like it or not, every car that’s rolled out of production has an ECU which is software programmed. Those days of pure mechanical cars which used cables and linkages are all gone. So its now a software which controls how much fuel is to be sent to the combustion chamber based on a combination of inputs from a throttle sensor and a MAPS sensor. A modern automobile is a complicated array of sensors and actuators liked together by a control software.

The problem, IMO is only when this system malfunctions and the car starts behaving like an uncontrolled Zombie robot. So I am all in favor of a big red Manual Override button which returns complete control to the driver in case of emergencies so at least he/she can park it to the side of the road.

Here’s what BHPian DicKy had to say on the matter:

Noob regarding software stuff, but I am always wary of automobiles capable of communicating over the air/ remotely.

Even if the car itself is loaded with software, I am okay if it is a closed system and is not able to connect with anything outside unless one physically connects to the ECU/ECM.

Ofcourse, there will always be the dangling of safety that advocates will use to justify Over the Air communications and car-to-car communication stuffs.

Here’s what BHPian Jeroen had to say on the matter:

Both airbags and ABS are computer controlled and you have no control over them.

E.g. airbag response time is speed dependent. The computer gets input from a deceleration sensor and calcite’s at which point in time the airbag deployment needs to be triggered. If you have side airbags it looks at several different sensor to decide for you which airbags need to deploy when.

You have no control over ABS either. ABs works less reliable at low speeds, so it is inhibited below a certain speed threshold, but even just above the threshold, depending on the situation, ABS might work less, than regular braking.

If you don’t know how ABS works, or rather needs to used, you will increase braking distance considerably. If you lift your foot of the brake whilst the ABS is active, it will de-activate, brake pads will be momentarily lifted before being employed again. ABS modulation tends to be speed dependent as well, sometimes some other factor as well.

So this is a system that is programmed to do help you during hard (emergency) braking. And whilst you keep your foot firmly on the brake pedal it will do its job nicely, fully autonomously from you. Lift momentarily or hit a wet/icey patch with one tire and all bets are off.If you have a car with an ECU it does a bunch of stuff that you can’t influence, from applying the automatic choke, to advancing the ignition timing, disconnecting the AC etc. Etc.

Car electronics and software or programmable functions have been around for at least 4-5 decades. My fourth year old Mercedes W123 with a carburator engine came standard, with electronic ignition and advancing of the timing.

My almost as old Alfa Spider has two computer already, Bosch L-Tropic system. Controls ignition and injection.

The main problem as I see it, people get stuck in the past. Few people could properly set up and tune a carburateur, few people can properly work on car electronics. By and large, more and more electronics have made cars more reliable and safer. All data from insurers lease companies and breakdown services show the same trend.

But people keep bitching on how you could repair an old proper car with a paperclip. And you can’t with modern cars. You need a laptop. That’s just what progress is like. Those that don’t keep up, e.g. mechanics, will ultimately be without a job.

I love old classic cars and modern ones. Currently we own four classics and one modern one. But for my daily drive I need something reliable and comfortable, which means the more electronic the better by and large.

The modern car might need a laptop if it breaks down, but to date it never has. Whereas the number of times I need to resort to not just paperclips, but a boot full of tools on my old cars is substantial.


Here’s what BHPian gururajrv had to say on the matter:

Too much reliance on electronics / internet as can be seen with many cars going smartphone way, headaches in reliability will be directly proportional to it. Another point I see or can infer with maximizing usage or making the cars go smarter is to reduce or discourage customers using FNGs in near future.

The reason I say this is because, I saw a post of a BMW customer on this forum who had mentioned their car holds data of the service interval and it can only be reset after customer gets the car serviced at ASS! So while softwares makes it all nice, it carries it’s own disadvantages with it.

Here’s what BHPian  lordrayden had to say on the matter:

“Boon or Bane?“ – Sorry to say but the question itself is somewhat wrong. It incorrectly assumes that the answer is a simple and clear right or wrong, black or white, etc. Nothing in life is that clear cut and bucketable (is that even a word?).

As others have mentioned even basic (for today) and unquestionably life saving things like ABS and airbags have some amount of software control. So it’s not all bad.

On the other hand we have AC temperature controls buried under a few layers of touchscreen menus. So it’s not all good.

Therefore the real question should be “where do we draw the line between boon and bane”.

Read BHPian comments for more insights and information.

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